Strengthening strengths: The “too much of a good thing” effect
Strength research is an essential element of positive psychology, a field of study that pursues the scientific research of optimum human functioning. The goal of this kind of research is not to find out what makes a person ill and how they can be healed again, but rather what helps people and communities to live a good life.
Character strengths are considered to be the backbone of positive psychology. Character strengths are the positive qualities and abilities of a person that are personally fulfilling, do not disparage others, are valid across cultures, and have a positive influence on the individual and their fellow humans. In a widely supported scientific study, it was established that there are 24 character strengths that distinguish every person. These character strengths, in turn, are gateways to the six universal virtues.
Every person has 24 character strengths, all expressed differently
Character strengths are dimensional: The question is therefore not whether a person has a certain character strength or not (that would be categorizing). Instead, each person carries within themselves all 24 character strengths at once. These are expressed to a greater or lesser degree on a broad continuum. How much a certain character strength expresses itself depends not only on someone’s personality, but also on the context, i.e. the specific situation that a person might be in at any given moment.
Among the character strengths are the signature strengths. These have significant meaning because they are the highly personal positive traits that an individual is best at and expresses most frequently. They are the heart and soul of a person, making signature strengths an important part of our identity. According to a series of studies, individuals who successfully employ four or more of their signature strengths at work have more positive experiences and consider their work to be more of a vocation. Signature strengths also contribute towards reaching one’s goals, releasing positive emotions and fulfilling basic psychological needs. In contrast, individuals who cannot express their signature strengths can experience a feeling of emptiness.
The happy medium: The strength zone of our signature strengths
Our signature strengths contain our energy and our personality. But, because we are so good at our signature strengths, there is a risk that we overdo them – known as the “too much of a good thing” effect: When a humorous person goes too far, they become silly. Humility, when exaggerated, leads to self-deprecation. kindness turns into pushiness. On the other side of the continuum lies the understatement – this, too, is harmful.
For us, strengthening strengths means that a person is aware of their strengths and uses them for their own goal-oriented development and for the benefit of their fellow humans and organizations. But it also means a high degree of self-reflection, so that one doesn’t get lost in exaggeration or understatement. The strength zone lies in the happy medium, which must be found again and again, so that the desired results for one’s own self and for others can be achieved.
Seminar on personal character strengths:
Martin Seligman, Wie wir Aufblühen, 2015.
Ryan M. Niemiec, Charakterstärken, 2019.
Link to VIA Institute of Character